Investigating unusual wine varieties around New Zealand

One of the interesting things about wine is trying either unusual varieties, or unusual treatments of more common varieties.

Hailing from South-Western France, Petit Manseng is hardly a household name in New Zealand, but the good people at Spade Oak Vineyard in Gisborne ( ) hope to change that.

I recently tried three different vintages of their Vigneron series Petit Manseng, all of which had been treated differently.

If these examples are anything to go by, it is a particularly versatile grape indeed.

The 2013 is a bright, straw-coloured dessert wine, slightly spicy and with notes of apple and honey. It has bright acid and a lovely long finish.

The 2015 vintage has been produced as an ‘Orange Wine’, which is effectively the opposite of a Rose.

A Rose is generally produced by limited skin contact from the red grapes, whereas an Orange Wine is generally produced by extended skin contact of the white grape skins, producing a white wine with red wine-esque tea like flavours from the skin tannins, and a distinctive orange hue.

This example has notes of mandarin, caramel and tea, and is very dry. An interesting example.

The third vintage I tried is the 2016, a ‘conventional’ white wine this time around. Intensely fruity and concentrated, it is a rich and voluptuous wine that goes very well with seafood.

The Donaldson family from Waipara in North Canterbury are best known for their brilliant Pegasus Bay wines, which are some of the finest produced in the country.

They also produce the excellent Main Divide wines ( , an affordable and outstanding range of wines that are well worth trying.

The quite brilliant Main Divide Pokiri Reserve 2014 Late Harvest Pinot Gris is a gorgeously sweet, botrytised wine that was left on the yeast lees for a short time to give it a touch of grainy minerality, which balances beautifully with the nuanced sweetness.

Honey, ginger and pear flavours and fine acidity. It is a rich and mouthfilling wine that is quite exceptional.

Stonecroft wines ( from the Gimblett Gravels region of Hawke’s Bay were the first to plant Syrah in New Zealand, and are now entirely organic.

Stonecroft Undressed Syrah 2016 takes that a step further, producing a wine that is organic, vegetarian and vegan friendly, gluten free and entirely preservative free, with no added sulphites.

A densely coloured, taut wine with chocolate, pepper and spice notes that are typical of the region.

At this early stage of its life the powerful oak flavours are quite obvious, but they will soften out and integrate over time.

A very nice wine at the moment, but one that will greatly reward medium term cellaring.

Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling isn’t a common blend, but Matahiwi Estate ( in the Wairarapa have produced a luscious little ‘sticky’ from them that suggests it should be.

‘Holly’ Late Harvest 2013 was harvested very late in the season, this botrytised wine is concentrated and mouthfilling with zingy, zesty fruit flavours and a rich, satisfyingly sweet finish.

It’s freshness belies its bottle age. Lovely stuff!

Toi Toi Sara’s Marlborough Rose 2017 ( is named after the owner, Sara Joyce.

A delicious Provence styled wine, salmon pink coloured and surprisingly weighty and complex on the palate.

Fresh citrus and berry fruit flavours and almost dry, it is a fine example of a New Zealand Rose, definitely a cut above many others.

Crossroads from Hawke’s Bay have been around in various forms since the 1980s, and are now part of the Yealands group.

Their flagship wine is the mysterious ‘Talisman’, a secret blend of varieties that have kept people guessing since its inception.

The currently available 2014 is a big, dense, oaky beast of a wine with plum, chocolate, cigar-box and berry flavours. It is crying out to be matched with venison, and will cellar well.